Book Review: The Alchemist’s Illusion (Gigi Pandian)

I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.

Goodreads Link | Author Website

4.5 Button

Ragdoll Rating: 4.5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Fans of mystery novels. Young folks.

About the Book

The Alchemist’s Illusion is part of the Accidental Alchemist series, although it is mostly a stand-alone work. This book makes frequent references to things that I assume happened in the previous three titles – I’ve not read them yet, so I can’t be totally sure – but I didn’t feel I missed anything from not having read them, everything was explained to some extent.

Zoe Faust has set herself up in Portland, Oregon. Zoe is an alchemist who created the Elixir of Life and has lived for hundreds of years. She has led a life on the run, skipping town and changing her identity every few years to avoid detection and revealing her secret, but now she had built herself a comfortable little life and she want’s to stay where she is. Then she discovers her old mentor, Nicholas Flamel is in danger and needs her help. Suddenly her life is turned on its head, and Zoe finds herself in the midst of an alchemical conspiracy / murder mystery.

What I thought:

It took me a while to get properly into this book. I think it was the abundance of language related to alchemy that did it. I know absolutely nothing about alchemy, which highlighted two thoughts in my head. Firstly, I didn’t know what any of the words meant, and secondly, I didn’t know if the vocabulary used was accurate or just made up by the author. I don’t know why this bugged me, and I don’t know why it stopped bugging me either. But it did stop, and once I got over it I was in the middle of a really excellent mystery novel. I read the whole book in less than a day – I stayed up all night just to finish, it was that kind of book. I couldn’t put it down.

So the first thing I really liked was the way alchemy was portrayed in the book. As I’ve just said, I know nothing about it, so perhaps everything is totally accurate (in so much as you can be accurate about something like alchemy), but it was different to how I usually see it portrayed. There is a lovely line in the book that says that the different between alchemy and chemistry is that alchemy requires a connection to the materials, and proper intention (or words to that effect). Zoe, for example, really struggles to turn things into gold, because she’s just not interested in it, but she is superb with plant-based alchemy. Edward Kelley can’t make gold, because his intentions aren’t good – he’s greedy and want’s the power and so he just can’t manage it. It’s very different from, for example, the Harry Potter style of alchemy where the philosophers stone gets made and suddenly anybody can use it just by having it on them.

It was also really interesting to see the variety of alchemy. Nicholas Flamel is sort of the traditional alchemist, lead into gold, that sort of thing (although by no means limited to just that one thing). Zoe is all about the plants. Tobias is a spiritual alchemist – someone who works to transform the spirit into something better. Phillipe Hayden is a alchemical painter – using raw materials to do magical things with paint. It really makes the world of alchemy more interesting and alive to know that there is so much to it that you wouldn’t necessarily expect.

Another thing I liked was the characters. Particularly Dorian – a gargoyle who became real by accident. Dorian still looks like a gargoyle – he’s grey, he’s got wings, he’s 3 feet tall – but he wanted to do things with his life, so he apprenticed under a blind chef and cooked for blind folks as a way of being out in the world but not seen. He’s heavily influenced by the books he reads and throws himself into any situation that calls for his attention. He’s just a wonderful creation and the whole book was improved by his existence.

One thing I noticed – and this an observation more than a criticism – is that Pandian has a tendency to repeat things that have already been said. The attic room where Dorian lives, for example, is probably described 3 times in much the same way at different points in the book, and there are other examples that escape me – mostly alchemical things. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it certainly helped cement some of the concepts in my mind, but I’m aware it could bug some people. Also there were a couple of times where characters said things that I just can’t imagine any human being every saying. The one that sticks in my mind most was an outburst by a murder victims wife, who says “He was wearing that on the moonlit night he was murdered!” The night he was murdered, sure, but the moonlit night? Perhaps people in Portland are more poetic than I am. Again, this isn’t a criticism it just struck me as a bit peculiar.

The thing I liked most about this book is that, as I said, after a shaky start (due to an abundance of technical terminology) I was completely and totally hooked. I think I read a few chapters Monday night, and then the entire book in on sitting last night. That’s not something I usually do, unless I’m really hooked into something. I’ll read for a long time, but it’s not often I find something I’m willing to stay up all night just to see how it ends. I’m also desperate to read the other three books in the series so I hope that goes some way to showing just how much I liked this book.

Final Thoughts

This is a really fun book, that I would happily recommend to anyone, and will probably wind up buying a physical copy of the series so my younger sisters can read it too, because I know they will love it.


Please Note: I received a copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!